Psychodermatology: The Connection Between the Mind & Skin



Understanding the relationship between the skin and the mind is complex, fascinating, and tends to confuse many people. Interested in learning about it? Keep reading.

Psychodermatology is the study of the interaction of the mind and skin. Basically, it is the idea that stress can cause skin conditions and skin conditions can cause stress. Psychodermatologists are trained to treat patients with both prescription medications and multiple therapy modalities. When a blemish pops up on your skin, chances are you spring into action. You probably examine it, review your arsenal of beauty products, and calculate the very best treatment to clear it up immediately. You may even consider popular prevention tactics -- analyzing your food journal to eliminate a potential trigger or finally replacing your body wash -- to ensure there are no reappearances. But then it returns. Why? 

Well, maybe you’re not treating the right thing. According to a relatively new era of study, “treating” skin problems may have more to do with your mind. Yup, your mental health affects your skin. 

What is Psychodermatology?

Psychodermatology is a growing field of study focused on the overlap of dermatology and psychiatry, and it’s all about studying the link between the skin and the mind. There are hundreds of ways that the skin and mind interact. And that connection works in both directions: mind affects the skin, skin affects the mind-- both negatively and positively. 

Strong emotions such as stress, grief, sadness, and anger can all affect the skin. For instance, just think back to a time when you felt embarrassed  about something. It’s likely your cheeks just went pink at the very thought of it. Sure, this is a pretty simplistic example, but it demonstrates how your mind can influence a reaction in your skin, even on a basic level. 

Uhm, How Exactly Are The Skin And Mind Linked?

Both the skin and the mind are connected via multiple pathways in our vascular nervous and endocrine systems, and that link up happens  before we’re even born. It’s because when we’re tiny embryos, our brain and skin are made from the same layer of cells during development -- so they’re connected from the very beginning. 


Skin Conditions And Your Brain

We’ve all broken out during our period  or when we are super stressed out. It’s super common. For anyone who has ever experienced a chronic skin condition though, finding an effective treatment can be emotionally and mentally draining. 

According to a study from 2018, researchers found that people with breakouts are more likely to develop depression, and a 2014 survey of 1,675 participants with rosacea (a skin condition that causes redness and bumps) demonstrated that 90 percent of them reported lower self-confidence and self-esteem. While most skin conditions aren’t life-threatening or even contagious, many are visible -- on the face, the arms, or the chest, for instance -- and socially stigmatizing. 

There are many different aspects to skin conditions -- including the impact of the condition itself on the person’s psychology and how it can or will interfere with the person’s socialization, relationships, self-esteem, or in severe cases, ability to find work. 

All too often, skin diseases are perceived to be more benign because they are not necessarily life-threatening. So many people may ignore taking care of them because they believe the conditions are solely a cosmetic concern and don’t consider the emotional and mental impacts. Today, however, there are many great treatment options for a lot of common skin disorders. 

There are also instances when the skin condition results from an underlying psychological disorder or worsened by trauma or stress. 

Wait, How Does Stress Affect The Skin Specifically?

Let’s take a quick peek at psychodermatology through the lens of stress. 

One of the most common skin conditions caused by stress is blemishes (yes, stress-induced breakouts are real). Your skin becomes much more sensitive when you’re experiencing stress because it leaks a little bit more moisture than usual when there are stress hormones circulating. Someone might be using a skincare product that they’ve used forever, the ingredients don’t change, but suddenly, they get an itchy rash from it. 

As if that’s not encouragement enough to keep your stress levels in check, believe it or not, stress can also cause accelerated signs of aging to appear in our skin. This is a phenomenon called stress aging.

Aside from sensitivity, blemishes, and premature aging of the skin, other conditions can result from stress. So, be sure to take some personal time for yourself and destress. It’s a must. 

Treating Your Skin By Treating Your Brain

The aim of psychodermatology isn’t to substitute psychotherapy for medicine but, instead, to recognize that emotional issues may also be involved -- especially when a condition resists regular  treatment. While it’s crucial to evaluate and treat a skin concern medically prior to looking into its psychological aspects, sometimes a drug or other medical approach that doesn’t work on its own becomes much more effective when combined with psychological strategies. 

Psychodermatology practitioners treat skin essentially the same way a psychotherapist treats behavior -- by learning how it responds to environmental and emotional stressors and helping to moderate those responses. Some treatment plans can include therapy or stress-reduction techniques as well as medication. 

Each individual’s treatment plan is subjective based on his/her condition and the recommendations of their medical team. So although you may feel stuck or even trapped by your skin condition -- take a great big deep breath and know that there are solutions to manage the breakout and improve your mood, too.

How Can You Utilize Psychodermatology At Home?

Psychodermatology is all about caring for your skin by caring for your mind and stress management is an essential piece of the puzzle. That’s especially true today when we are all coping with the consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic on top of all of our other daily stressors. 

That means that good habits help you manage stress -- whether that’s exercise, medication, or even journaling -- become effective preventative skin care measures. Yup, you read that right! That’s because less stress can mean fewer breakouts, dryness, dullness, and sensitivity. Simply put -- stress reduction is skincare. Who would’ve thought?

When it comes to skincare products, try cultivating an effective routine based on positivity and enjoyment. If you are putting a product on your face, you should have a positive experience with it. You deserve it. 

A good skincare routine should take place twice a day (morning and night) and shouldn’t hurt -- everything should feel good. If something happens to have a fragrance, for example, you should like the smell. 

In other words, use great skincare products that you like and ultimately make you feel good. Don’t make your skincare routine stressful. Not sure where to find great skincare products? Check out Topicals, the new standard -- medicated botanicals. Using only science-backed ingredients and herbals, Topicals works with your skin to leave it feeling hydrated, healthy, and happy.


Bottom Line

Psychodermatology is a combination of dermatology and psychiatry. 

The connections between skin conditions and stress are undeniable. Psychodermatology represents an innovative way forward for the treatment of both.

The field, however, is still growing, so there isn’t a dedicated guideline on what to do if you suspect your stress is causing flares in a particular skin condition. But it also doesn’t hurt to take steps to manage your stress. Try mediation, yoga, or deep breathing exercises to get your stress levels under control. 

You can also try changing around your skincare routine to use great products that make you feel happy. Not sure where to look? Head on over to Topicals.

Topicals understands that life (and skin) is fluid and messy. That’s why they’ve created skincare products that are made from science-backed ingredients and herbals to work with your skin -- not against it. What’s more, they donate 1 percent of their profits to crucial mental health movements to help raise awareness around the connection between skin and mental health. 

When you support Topicals -- you’re not only getting your hands on some of the best skincare products around, but you’re also supporting mental health advocacy for those who need it most. 


The Link Between Skin and Psychology | APA

Recognizing the Mind-Skin Connection | Harvard Health.

Conditions: A to Z | AAD

Stress, Inflammation, and Aging | NCBI